Modern Vampires: Are They Thirsting For Love Or Our Blood?

October 17, 2009 by  

We are surrounded by vampires. They now roam among us. What began with Bram Stoker’s Count Dracula, published in 1897, has now evolved into the trendy Twilight sensation of Edward Cullen and Charlaine HarrisSouthern Vampire Mysteries, which has, in the capable hands of Alan Ball, been translated into the hit HBO TV series True Blood.

Stoker’s Dracula has often been seen as the forerunner of the vampire eric-true-blood-7574142-433-612-212x300genre, contributing to many literary and cinematic genres within vampire literature, horror films and gothic fiction. Although Stoker did not invent the vampire, the novel’s influence on the popularity of vampires has been singularly responsible for many literary and cinematographic interpretations in recent contemporary history. With the onslaught of recent media exposure ranging from best-selling novels to TV series to major motion pictures, the obsession with vampires has now reached new heights. From Anne Rice’s Interview with a Vampire, to Buffy the Vampire Slayer to HBO’s True Blood and Stephanie Meyer’s Twilight series, it seems that the public’s appetite for the vampire is insatiable.

Based on the Southern Vampire Mysteries, HBO‘s True Blood series opened last year and has been gradually building a cult following among fans. Season 2 premiered on June 14 in the US and was the most watched HBO show since The Sopranos series finale in June 2007. According to HBO, True Blood averages 10.8 million viewers per episode, up 39% from last season. Even Tim Burton has now entered the realm of the vampire with his upcoming movie adaptation of the classic vampire TV show, Dark Shadows.

The popularity of the vampire for both teenagers and adults is undeniable and it looks like these marvelous fanged creatures are now stalking us across literature, films, theatre, and our own television screens.

Literary and film critics have long examined the attraction of the vampire, analyzing several common themes popping up in vampire literature and films, such as the role of women, taboos about sexuality, as well as socio-political themes, such as immigration and racial segregation.

But what is undeniable is that taken collectively the vampires in True Blood, Twilight and the Vampire Diaries are barely recognizable, having changed so dramatically from Stoker’s 19th century classic depiction of the vampire. What then has changed, setting Dracula apart from the more sympathetic, humanized vampires such as Bill Compton, Eric Northman, Angel or Lestat?

In Stoker’s Dracula, the forerunner of our modern vampires, we encounter a vampire truly terrifying. He is the ultimate bad guy, and compared to today’s vampires, who we would happily ogle, Stoker’s Dracula is physically repulsive. Stoker himself described Dracula as having eyes that were blazing red, a deathly pale face, thick eyebrows that met over the nose, bad breath, long pointed finger nails and pointed ears. He’s not exactly the modern day vampire heartthrob we’ve come to expect in our vampires. According to Foster,

“What’s changed between new vampire culture and that of Anne Rice is that new literature and entertainment allows vampires to be seen in a softer light. In Rice’s Interview with a Vampire, written in 1973, the main character Lestat chooses to live his life eternally as a vampire. After he has made his decision he is forced to live a solitary life forever. Similarly, the show Buffy the Vampire Slayer is based on the premise that the blood-thirsty creatures are evil. Buffy, played by Sarah Michelle Gellar, is the only person capable of killing vampires who are dangerous to mankind”.

It seems that today’s vampires are more intent on wooing us than draining us dry. Rather than eating us, the modern vampire of Bon Temps seems to prefer stalking, seducing and sleeping with us. They are now brooding, insecure, introspective, angst-ridden and romantic, a dangerously attractive kind of decadent aristocrat. And while Dracula was not a looker, Stoker did set the sexual tone of the vampire. Vampires have now progressed from outsiders to becoming objects of desire, famed for their powers of seduction.

Unlike Stoker’s Dracula, the Louisiana vampires of True Blood have been transformed into seductive figures. No longer the villain and outsider, our modern vampires are angst-ridden heroes. Bill Compton has, for example, been referred to as a modern day Heathcliff or Mr. Darcy. HBO’s True Blood shows a world where vampires have revealed themselves to humans, and attempt to live in harmony. In this world, romances between vampires and humans are allowed, and many other supernatural beings now walk among the inhabitants of Bon Temps. Unlike Dracula, these vampires are part of our world; the focus is now on their interactions with each other, and their social relationships with humans. These lions really do want to lie down with the lambs.

However, what True Blood, Buffy and Twilight have in common is a central female character; through her we encounter and experience our modern vampires.

Warner Brothers’ television series Buffy the Vampire Slayer and Angel dominated late 90’s television. While the series revolved round Buffy and her Scooby gang solving countless mysteries in Sunnydale, it also centered around the love triangle between Buffy and the vampires, Angel and Spike.

bill and sookieSimilarly, True Blood revolves round a central female character, that of the trials and tribulations of Sookie Stackhouse, a waitress with telepathic powers in Bon Temps who falls in love with 173-year-old vampire Bill Compton (Stephen Moyer). Unlike Twilight, HBO’s True Blood is fairly seething in sin and overt sexuality; blending murder mystery, drama and comedy. But it is undeniable that its main focus is exploring the nature of sexuality and romance within vampire-human relations. Anyone who has watched True Blood will know that its vampires have taken lessons from their famous ancestor. And so, the vampire has adapted himself to contemporary society. No longer following in the footsteps of Dracula, he has evolved from an utterly terrifying alien creature to a cosmopolitan being, a bon vivant of the night.

As Foster indicates:

Vampires now have a chance at romance and love. They are no longer innately evil. Rather, they are good or evil based on their own decision. The new take on vampires allows interaction between the cold ones and their human opposites. Instead of underground lairs and in-home coffins, vampires are now lurking in high schools and Louisiana bars. The tensions between a vampire’s thirst and his desire to fit into the human world simply make for good entertainment”

In Charlaine Harris’s Southern Vampire Mysteries, we see, for example, the blossoming romance between Sookie Stackhouse and Bill Compton gradually becoming increasingly strained through a series of, shall we say, betrayals, tumultuous incidents and the increasing attraction between Sookie Stackhouse and Eric Northman, a 1000-year-old Viking vampire.

In HBO’s True Blood, we encounter the vampires Eric Northman and Bill Compton who could be described as hommes fatales. In Bill Compton and Eric Northman, we encounter the modern day vampire who isn’t entirely evil, unlike their forebears. The formerly fearsome creature of the night has now become more sympathetic to humans. No longer the bloodthirsty predator, they are now fashion conscious creatures, intent on entertaining intimate relationships with humans. Rarely have monsters looked so sultry and alluring. The vampires in True Blood are charismatic, powerful, dangerous and devilish. Not only are they beautiful, immortal but they are titillatingly libidinous. They can defeat death, seduce anyone of their choosing, obliterate their enemies, play yahtzee and stay up all night. What’s not to like? Unlike our horror for Dracula, we empathize with our vampires in True Blood. And based on viewers’ reactions to the vampires in True Blood, we humans can surely say that we recognize in the Louisiana vampires a dangerous sexuality that is truly something wicked.

SOURCE: The Daily Orange

Photo credit: HBO Inc.